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Jan 12

Using The AIA Contract Documents To Study For The ARE

There are a lot of people that have found that using the AIA Contract Documents to study for the ARE can be very helpful on the CDS exam. This specific section of the Construction Documents and Services exam gives a lot of candidates trouble because they lack experience dealing with contract documents.

AIA Contract

Think about it, a good majority of ARE candidates have only been working in architecture firms for about 3-6 years. In those first few years on the job, most people will start off by doing construction documents, preliminary design work, and maybe some construction administration. What I’m getting at is that it’s very rare for a young intern architect to get experience with contracts before they start taking the AREs because it’s typically handled by project managers or higher.

Without much real-world experience dealing with AIA contracts, it’s certainly recommended that ARE candidates take the time to study these contracts before taking the CDS exam. By using the AIA contract documents to study, candidates are able to get a better understanding of the different relationships that architects have throughout the course of a project.

What Are the AIA Contract Documents?

The AIA documents are a series of over 100 documents that architects, owners, and contractors use to help define their relationship during a project. These contract documents are basically the standard when it comes to design and construction professionals because they are so widely used and flexible when it comes to running a project.

No matter what the project type or project delivery method used, there will be an AIA contract or form that will fit the needs for the project.

In order to help organize these documents in logical way, the AIA has defined 6 main categories for contracts:

  • A-Series:  Owner/Contractor Agreements
  • B-Series:  Owner/Architect Agreements
  • C-Series:  Other Agreements
  • D-Series:  Miscellaneous Documents
  • E-Series:  Exhibits
  • G-Series:  Contract Administration/Project Management

Again, these are the standards that AIA has set forth and are the industry standard so most architecture firms and contractors are familiar with them. This consistency and familiarity with the documents certainly helps projects move more smoothly so it’s important to have a good grasp on these contracts.

What To Study For the ARE

Now, there’s definitely a difference when it comes to what you need to know about the AIA documents in the workplace compared to what you need to know and study for the ARE.

For the ARE, it’s really all about understanding the CONCEPTS of the AIA contract documents. Let’s face it, architects aren’t lawyers and really don’t understand the legal aspect of the AIA contracts. NCARB certainly understands this and you don’t really need to worry about memorizing any specific contract word for word.

Since you don’t need to memorize any contract specifically, it’s even more important that you grasp the general concept of the contract documents though because so many questions can be developed from one contract.

Fortunately, you really don’t need to know ALL of the 100 or so contracts that make up the AIA documents. There are really 3 main AIA contracts that you NEED to be familiar with to pass the ARE. Remember, even though the AIA contracts fall under the CDS exam, you can still see questions relating to contracts on other tests, especially PPP. It’s always important to get a solid understanding of the PURPOSE of each contract and how it relates to a project.

The 3 main contracts that I recommend thoroughly reviewing are:

    • A101 – Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Contractor

Even though this contract is between the Owner and Contractor, it’s important for the architect to be familiar with it because many issues may arise during the course of the project that the architect will need to play a role in.

This agreement gets into issues such as:

      • Substantial Completion
      • Contract Sum
      • Progress Payments
      • Compensation Methods

For the ARE, I recommend reading through this entire contract and focus on understanding how these conditions would relate to a project. Don’t worry about memorizing anything specific, just focus on how everything applies to a project.

Try to see things from the point of view of all parties, especially the architect. Remember, you most likely won’t see anything specific recall on the CDS exam but you will certainly see questions that relate to this material.

    • B101 – Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect

This form is one that is definitely important to know for the ARE because it outlines all of the responsibilities of the architect and the owner throughout the course of a project.

This document lays out the architect’s basic services, additional services, and other terms and conditions between the 2 parties. Just like the Owner/Contractor Agreement, it’s just as important to be familiar with the overall concept of this agreement for the ARE.

Some of the general issues that the B101 documents gets into include:

      • Project Administration
      • Design Services
      • Construction Administration Services
      • Cost of Services
      • Change in Services
      • Compensation Methods

Again, I can’t stress the importance of understanding the general concepts of this agreement. I would still read through this entire document and try to think about how it relates to the real-world experience that you have. Most of the terms and concepts used in this document should be familiar to you so it should be easy to relate to experience that you have had in the office even if you don’t have any direct experience working with contracts.

Many of the terms and definitions will appear on the ARE at some point, usually during the CDS exam. That’s why it’s important to forget about trying to memorize all the definitions and just focus on how everything relates to a project.

    • A201 – General Conditions of the Contract for Construction

The General Conditions may be the most important document in the AIA contract documents because they set forth the rights, responsibilities, and relationships of the owner, contractor, and architect.

This contract goes through each major party and basically lists the responsibilities that each party has throughout a project. If you’re only going to read through one contract before your ARE exam, I would definitely recommend that it be this one.

The A201 basically ties all of the major agreements together into one document so I highly recommend reading through this document a few times before taking the CDS exam. Again, focus more on the big picture issues rather than the specific numbers listed in this agreement.

Some of the issues that the A201 document gets in to are:

      • General Provisions
      • Owner – Duties and Responsibilities
      • Contractor – Duties and Responsibilities
      • Administration of the Contract
      • Changes in Work
      • Payments and Completion
      • Insurance and Bonds

Since this document basically ties everything together, I’d say it’s the most important document that you can study for the CDS exam. Take your time and read through it until YOU understand it.

I’m not going to lie but it’s quite intimidating when you start reading through this document but make sure you take your time to understand the concepts.

Finding AIA Study Material

In the past, it was always hard for ARE candidates to study the AIA contract documents because architecture firms have to pay to have access to them.

Fortunately, NCARB has developed a way for candidates to use sample documents to study for the ARE. All you need in order to access these sample documents is your Candidate ID number. This is the same number that you use when signing up for an exam online.

Once you do this, you will have access to free “draft” versions of all of the AIA contracts. This is such a valuable resource and I highly recommend taking advantage of it.

To access the sample versions of the AIA documents for the ARE, simply follow the link below and enter your Candidate ID Number.

In addition to these resources, the AIA also offers free commentaries and summaries of the documents. This is very helpful when it comes to reviewing some of the smaller documents just to give you a general idea of what they’re about.

See the link below for access to the AIA reference descriptions and summaries:


I hope this information about using the AIA contract documents to study for the ARE didn’t scare too many people. I just want to give everyone a heads up on what to expect on the ARE in terms of contracts because it’s something that not all candidates are familiar with.

Going in to the CDS exam, I was very intimidated by the AIA contracts but after talking to other colleagues and classmates, I was able to figure out exactly what to study so that I wasn’t wasting time memorizing useless information.

Again, depending on your previous experience dealing with contracts, stick to understanding the general concepts of the major AIA documents. Read through them thoroughly until you understand the purpose of each document as it relates to a project.